Sales Automation Software Buyer's Guide: Top 10 Solutions of 2017

We've put together this free comparison guide for buyers to compare and identify the best sales automation software for your specific needs.

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Sales CRM with Powerful Mobile App
2-Way Email, Calls & SMS, Call Logging
Sales Forecasting, Lead Score & Nurturing
Geolocation, Predictive Analytics, Reporting
$45/mo/user/annually (3 seats minimum)
No Reviews
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Call-Centric Sales with Good Support
Call & Email Integration, Lead Scoring
Profile Auto-Enrichment, Custom Reports
Website Tracking, Freshdesk Integration
$12/mo/user/annually ($15 month-to-month)
4 Reviews
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All-in-One CRM with Diverse Integrations
Marketing, Sales, Helpdesk Functionality
Call Integration, Project Management
Social Marketing, Analytics & Reports
Varies by Plan
Free for 10 Users
1 Reviews
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Pipeline Management with Automations
Contact Management, Scheduled Reports
Mass Email, Social CRM, Custom Workflows
Key Integrations, Mobile App, Affordability
Fees Apply, Varies by Plan
Free for 2 Users
3 Reviews
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Social Sales with Little Data Entry
Profile Enrichment, Group Messages
Email & Calendar Sync, Automatic Logging
Simple Pricing, Easy Setup, Mobile App
$30/mo/user/annually ($35 month-to-month)
1 Reviews
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Well-Designed CRM with Great Support
Affordable Pricing, Easy Setup, Simple UI
Sales Process Management & Triggers
Custom Dashboards & Reports, Mobile App
Varies by Plan
$19/mo/user/annually ($22 month-to-month)
1 Reviews
Activity-Based Pipeline Management
Pipeline Notifications, Custom Activities
Sales Reporting & Forecasting, 2-Way Email
Custom Products, Mobile App, Multilingual
$10/mo/user/annually ($12 month-to-month)
7 Reviews
High-Velocity Sales with Calls & Email
Simple UI, Smart Search, Little Data Entry
Unlimited Calling, Mass Emails & Tracking
Call Tracking & Logging, Custom Reports
$59/mo/user/annually ($65 month-to-month)
3 Reviews

What is Sales Force Automation?

Sales force automation (SFA), also known as Sales Force Management, refers to software that centralizes and automates the sales process and related needs, such as inventory control, contact management, task management, customer interactions, budget analysis and forecasting. Sales force automation underpins certain functions built around a central pillar of Customer Relationship Management (CRM), of which there are three pillars – Sales, Marketing and Customer Support.

Some CRM solutions offer a comprehensive platform that includes features for all three pillars of CRM. Others provide a more focused approach with a narrower range of features optimized for specific use cases. Sales-oriented CRMs, which may lack built-in customer support features and robust marketing tools, combine traditional CRM tools with sales force automation features to provide contact, schedule and task management along with a visual sales pipeline and customized reports – among other features – to reduce unprofitable busy work, improve the success rate of sales reps and track CRM and sales KPIs for sales team management.

Finding the right type of sales force automation solution depends largely on your company, industry and particular use case. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but the right SFA solution should address all stages of the sales funnel, provide collaborative tools for sharing among reps, integrate with your key third-party business applications, streamline the sales process for individual reps and organize and scale with your customer and company data – in the process becoming an increasingly valuable intangible asset instrumental in forecasting future needs and growth.

Key Benefits & Features of Sales Force Automation

Most CRMs with sales force automation tools are offered via Software-as-a-Service subscription. This entails certain benefits consistent with all SaaS offerings independent of type. SFA platforms specialize in reducing data entry, streamlining sales work, integrating with apps that solve related business needs and producing visual sales reports based on available data.

While each platform is different, users can expect a certain consistency in what sales force automation software expects to achieve.

  • Reduce Data Entry. Manually updating contact, lead and opportunity databases or activity logs eats up time, mental bandwidth and is prone to human error. CRMs can scour available public data to complete contact profiles and produce visualized reports with minimal human input.
  • Scale for Growth. CRM vendors offer tiers of SaaS subscriptions for companies of different needs. As your needs change, the vendor (and the software) should be able to accommodate your growth. Companies can upgrade (or downgrade) subscriptions to find a plan with the features and scope to accommodate growth without disruption of business activity.
  • Track User Activity. A CRM with SFA will produce logs of user activity that are useful for tracking sales team performance. Therefore, managers are able to identify successful sales techniques, reward top users, set benchmarks per user and identify where in the sales process the team is struggling.
  • Track Customer Activity and Trends. Your platform should also track activity by individual customers, segments, frequency, type, time period and so forth. This allows companies to fine tune their sales processes to target customers when they’re most amenable to making a purchase.
  • Import Data in Familiar Formats. CRMs often make contact importation easy for their users by using common file formats – CSV or XLS – or by integrating with popular apps or software suites. Users with Gmail, Outlook, Exchange, Yahoo! Mail or LinkedIn accounts can import contacts directly from these services. (Sometimes, CRMs can also import contacts from their rivals.)
  • Personalize Customer Engagement. CRMs can also include contact’s personal information, such as birthdays, social media mentions, job promotions, which are acquired either directly or through publicly available means. This data might spur a congratulatory message or personalized shopping incentive that encourages customers to reward themselves – through your brand, of course.
  • Automate Workflows. CRMs offer varying degrees of customization to streamline routine actions, like automatic task creation and assignment, notifications for upcoming deals or events, triggered emails and so on. This further reduces unproductive (but necessary) busy work on behalf of reps to keep data organized, allowing them to focus on the profitable aspects of their work.
  • Improve Cooperation. Reps managing shared accounts must have access to their colleagues’ insights. Your sales CRM should allow internal notes and group messaging so when continuing work on a specific account, your team is able to build on previously acquired data without needing to consult someone separately.
  • Export Data in Familiar Formats. Sharing your data means having the ability to export it in a usable format – typically, this means CSV or XLS formats, but depending on the type of data, a CRM might export in more particular formats, such as vCard.
  • Mobilize Your Team. A quality CRM will accommodate your need for mobility with a native mobile app to grant access to CRM data when users are away from their computers. While some mobile apps simply port CRM functions, better ones expand it with geolocation, business card scanners, and syncing with call and SMS logs.

What to Look for in a Sales Force Automation Solution

Sales force automation solutions from different providers implement functions in different ways – common features might be labeled differently. While certain features may suit your business needs more than others, bear in mind most SaaS subscriptions aren’t a la carte – if you need a specific feature that’s only available in a higher-tier subscription, you’ll need to upgrade to get it, or find a solution that offers it within the price range you want.

  • User Interface – CRM shoppers must be mindful not only of the theme and layout, but the accessibility of key features for team members using the platform every day. Minimizing visual clutter, ensuring data is readily available, granting individual users customization features go a long way towards universal adoption – which is necessary to obtain positive ROI on your sales force automation investment.
  • Contact Management – Sales force automation software typically provides contact management tools, including importing and exporting contacts, custom fields and tags, custom views, a robust search function, and in some cases, automatic contact profile completion using email signatures and public social media data. A contact’s individual profile should also show interaction and correspondence history, as well as any related notes, tasks or events. Contacts and organizations can be linked to other CRM data with custom notifications when the record is updated.
  • Task Management – A CRM with sales force automation allows users to create, edit and assign tasks, customize alerts, link them to contacts, organizations or events and share them with colleagues. Many CRMs allow workflows that enable automatic task creation or updating according to user-defined criteria.
  • Calendar Sync – Many CRM solutions allow users to sync with web-based calendars, such as Google Calendar or Outlook Calendar. Users can import their schedules and events to link with related contacts or organizations, share their calendar with other users and create custom alerts based on upcoming meetings or events.
  • Multichannel Integration – Many sales force automation solutions integrate multichannel communication, such as email, calls, SMS, social media and web chats. Users can engage opportunities on all channels from within the platform, and apply personalized templates or macros as pre-formatted messages. Most CRMs with integrated channels also track channel activity, such as when a call was made, its duration and the caller or recipient. This would also be shown in the related contact’s individual profile page.
  • Automatic Logging – CRMs that offer sync with multiple channels will automatically log communication within the CRM. All interactions are stored as relevant contact or organization details; specific details can be shared with other CRM users. Automatically logged communication, combined with contact-linked tasks, notes and events, help provide a 360-degree view of each contact.
  • Activity Tracking – Most CRMs with sales force automation also track activity within the platform. This provides a sense of each user’s productivity and also whether progress is being made on certain deals. It also provides data for activity reports related to team and agent performance, channel-specific
  • Visual Sales Pipeline – Most sales-oriented CRMs offer a visual sales pipeline with a drag-and-drop interface. Users can create multiple pipelines with custom stages and likelihood of win per stage. Deals can be edited from within the pipeline and specific contacts and organizations linked to each deal. Custom notifications can alert users when a deal changes pipeline stage or when other changes occur.
  • Custom Workflows – CRMs with sales force automation also enable users to configure custom workflows. These include automatic record creation or update, custom notifications, email triggers, task assignment and others according to user-defined criteria. Custom workflows allow users to automate repetitive CRM tasks; the more the CRM becomes the focal point for sales activity, and the more routine processes are automated, the more time sales agents can focus on the creative aspect of closing deals rather than busy work.
  • Custom Notifications – Users can configure custom notifications according to specified criteria, such as when a particular record is updated, when they’re assigned tasks or when tasks are overdue, when a deal changes pipeline stage, when they receive a message, and more.
  • Reports – Sales force automation solutions typically provide a number of advanced reports, which includes KPI reports like total sales, sales by channel, sales per agent, forecasted sales, sales reports, team and agent performance, KPI reports, performance metrics, lost deal analysis as well as custom filters to give managers granular insight into their sales activity and team performance. In addition, many CRMs also integrate with specialized business intelligence software to extend reporting functionality outside of the built-in options.
  • Integrations – Businesses that require sales force automation software invariably use other business applications; as the CRM is intended to be the hub of contact management and sales processes, it must integrate with your other necessary software. Sales force automation solutions will integrate with accounting, HR, marketing automation, helpdesk solutions and others.
  • Mobile App – Sales is increasingly mobile and your team needs access to their data when they’re working remotely. A CRM with sales force automation will usually provide a mobile app that syncs with the CRM and provides essential functions. Certain solutions offer apps that extend the CRM’s functionality – such as app that syncs with the device’s call and SMS logs or provides geolocation.
  • Service and Support – CRM providers offer different levels of support depending on the subscription. Most solutions provide a free online knowledge base with how-to articles, FAQs, video guides and occasional webinars. Lower-tier plans also offer email and sometimes web chat support. Upper-tier plans offer personalized phone support. Some providers offer service level agreements by which you are entitled to a certain number of hours of support or issues with a dedicated account executive. If you foresee a need for personalized assistance from the experts, consider support when evaluating sales force automation providers.

What to Look for When Comparing Sales Force Automation Providers

A CRM that fulfills the business needs of some users might not fill the needs of others. The Customer Relationship Management software market has hundreds of providers, for good reason – it’s hard to get right, and for every provider that tries to solve many business needs generally, there are those who solve a few business needs very well. It’s wise to compare user reviews by industry, but ultimately a company must pull the trigger on their own. Here are five criteria on which you can compare CRMs with sales force automation.

  • Functionality – Determine your sales team’s needs. If your team makes a lot of phone calls, you’ll want a platform with integrated phone functionality, call logging and reports on call metrics. If you acquire leads through social media, you’ll want a platform with Facebook or Twitter integration. If you acquire leads through email, you may want 2-way email integration and integration with email marketing platforms.
  • Integrations – CRMs don’t do everything, but for functions they don’t handle, CRM data should be made available. Plenty of sales CRMs integrate with popular accounting and invoicing, human resource and marketing applications. Many providers also make available their developer API for custom integrations, while Zapier is more or less the industry standard for unofficial integrations.
  • Customization – As mentioned earlier, the CRM should fit your business, not the other way around. Custom fields and tags make your records and reports more nuanced and filterable. Custom workflows provide automation according to your specific needs. Being able to modify the platform to your business needs and tastes goes a long way towards maximizing your ROI on the platform.
  • Usage Limits – Depending on your subscription, a CRM provider might limit the extent of your use of the platform. This might take the form of a maximum number of mass emails sent per day, or a limit to the number of records (contacts, tasks, events, etc) you can create. Typically, the higher your tier of subscription, the higher your limits, until you have unlimited use of the CRM; sometimes providers allow a separate upgrade aimed at increasing these limits without upgrading the entire plan.
  • Cost – After considering your sales team’s needs, and user reviews by industry and company size, consider your budget for implementing a new CRM. Most providers list their prices according to users per month, and offer discounts for annual and bi-annual subscriptions. Despite the lower upfront IT investment of SaaS solutions, there are additional costs to factor in, such as the potential need for an administrator or a developer to produce custom integrations. While some of this work can be contracted, you’ll need to include additional factors into your cost estimate besides the vendor’s price.
  • Support – Providers sometimes offer a limited number of hours for customer support over a limited number of channels. While certain vendors offer (or require) paid onboarding sessions, others might allocate support options by time spent or number of issues. Depending on the experience of your CRM administrator, or potential incompatibility with existing systems, you may prefer a CRM vendor who ranks highly among reviews for customer support.

Some Final Thoughts to Sales Force Automation Shoppers

Sales force automation software offers the potential to expedite the sales process, improve the efficiency of your sales team and accurately measure sales performance and customer activity. But in order to find the right match, you’ll need to carefully evaluate your business needs and use case – the number of employees using it, their experience with such platforms, the functions you’ll need, whether the features are implemented according to your needs – and then you can compare solutions against one another.

Your CRM, and sales force automation processes, are only as good as the data you collect. So practice data collection wisely – with respect to your customers’ privacy concerns – to ensure your data is up to date and secured.

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